Jazz Ensemble Exercises

As a middle school music educator, I believe the middle school/junior high school years provide an excellent opportunity to begin to introduce kids to jazz performance. Here are a few jazz articulation and rhythm warm-up exercises that are not usually taught and sometimes forgotten: 

 

Jazz Articulation Exercises

At the first rehearsals, I begin by introducing students to the concept of developing a jazz accent (jazz articulations). Similar to foreign languages, which are comprised of a variety of dialects or accents. Jazz is a dialect in the language of music that requires students to learn to perform using the proper accent. Like learning to speak and read, students are introduced to the jazz accent by listening and imitating (call and response activities) the teacher. I teach students the jazz accent using syllabification (scat singing) and have them imitate (call and response) what I sing or play on their instruments using a unison pitch (i.e. Bb Concert).  

I have the drum set play a jazz swing rhythmic feel on drum-set (with high-hat opening on 2 and 4 and ride cymbal playing a quarter followed by 2 Eighth note swing feel). While playing the swing feel, I also have the drummer imitate the jazz articulations I demonstrate verbally as well as with his/her right hand on the snare (along with the jazz ensemble). 

Resource: Tommy Igoe's Groove Essentials 1.0

The second articulation exercise, has the students practice their jazz articulations by having them syllabify rhythms from their music. For example, the band is learning to play Cute By Neil Hefti, Arranged by Michael Sweeney, I would have them syllabify verbally (using call and response) and on a neutral pitch (Bb Concert) on their instruments the following rhythms:


Jazz Warm-Ups

I believe it is important and research regarding the psychology of memory indicate that the beginning and ending activities are linked to the highest levels of recall. For this reason, I always connect the warm-ups (the first ten minutes of rehearsal) to what I hope to accomplish in the music. My warm-ups general consist of the following:

  1.  Jazz articulation exercises (as described above). 
  2. Concert Scales based on the key signature of the jazz band arrangements being studied (i.e. if the piece is in Bb Concert) we warm up with an Bb concert scale.
  3. Any rhythms that may be challenging from the selected jazz repertoire being studied are reviewed using the counting method and practiced based on the Concert Scale of the selections being studied (as described in step 2). 
  4. I teach the corresponding jazz scale for the improvisation section of the selected jazz repertoire (e.g. if the piece is based on the Bb Blues, I teach and warm-up the band with an Bb Blues Scale). 
  5. I also teach the band to play 10 two-bar jazz riffs (in the key of one of the songs selected for the concert), which will be used to help the students improvise a solo.

Resource: Jamey Abersold Jazz Handbook (Blues Scales etc.) (pdf)